OLD GAUHATI TALES
Thoda Sa Localpanti & Dher Sare Customer Care
By DILIP SARMA
It was the early 1970s in Phansi Bazar. A girl (1) in her late teens came into “Pick Me” (2) in tears. The people at “Pick Me” were friends of her eldest brother. She complained that at “Goenka” (cloth shop) they were ignoring her. Looking at the distress of the “Akoni bhani” (little sister), a small team from “Pick Me” was sent along with her. Under the caring watch of the “dadas”, “Akoni bhani” was attended to by all the salesmen and the manager of the establishment. It must have been an exaggeration, but I have also heard that “Akoni bhani’, after being attended to for an hour, and also being served cold drinks and piping hot “vegetable chop” from “Robin Cabin” across the road, finally declared, “I am in no mood to buy anymore!”
Anisul Haque started “Pick Me” in the early 1950s. Though, even then, they offered the best “ladies’ cosmetics, perfumes” (3), “vanity bags” in town, it was a variety shop that also sold products ranging from cooking stoves to toys. It was only in the 1990s, after his eldest son Ahsan Rajeeb, who joined the business in 1989, and later his brother Jabir Sazzed, that it solely became a “House of Cosmetics, Imitation Jewelry, & Other Novelties”. It was also then the single point outlet of many “Beauty Parlour Items” at a wholesale price.
Anisul Haque, like many of Lakhtokia’s old Assamese Muslims knew that Phansi Bazar had become “Fancy Bazar” and it would be difficult to withstand the “cut throat” competition from the business-savvy Marowaris with deep pockets and a strong clannish loyalty. But the sheer pride of being the original inhabitants (4) did not allow some of the Lakhtokians to surrender and they, in turn, created, unknown to them, a social clan for themselves by helping each other and seeking patronage even from the outside. They, quietly, and without much fuss, played the “local card” as was evident in the little story of “Akoni bhani”.
These are just inferences of events of years that have gone by. But I asked Ahsan why they at “Pick Me” (5) survived and others did not. He said that the others were not solely dependent on their businesses and had other sources of income. They took the easy way out by renting out their buildings. Anisul Haque believed in the hard work of just being there and customer care. And he had successfully passed this on to his sons. Ahsan told me that, being the largest seller of cosmetics, they got stuff at a discount from agents and they passed on some benefits in the form of a discount to all customers. You will get a 5-10 percent discount without even asking for it. And some old customers even get 15 -20 percent off. Most things you would get there. But if you do not get something, you are requested to wait and they would fetch it from somewhere nearby and give it to you, sometimes at a price less than the fetching price.
Cosmetics and perfume selection do take a lot of time and no one at “Pick Me” is in a hurry despite the heavy rush. If you look slightly aged, you are offered a seat in those cushioned high stools.
What is my take after so many visits (to pick up my perfumes) to “Pick Me”? It is simple & straightforward: Thoda Sa Localpanti & Dher Sare Customer Care!! The “Lakhtokia Resistance” in Phansi Bazar may be the future Assamese model of an entrepreneurial journey. However, they better remember the “dher sare” part too!
PostScript: Some of you may be offended by these politically incorrect undemocratic conclusions of mine. But hey! Who said the ‘business’ of running businesses is democratic or politically correct!?
1 The girl ultimately retired as the Professor & HoD of Gauhati Medical College.
2 The name “Pick Me” was given by the late Nirod Chowdhury, Assamese writer & columnist.
3 In those days, cosmetics and perfumes were meant exclusively for women. May be just coconut/Lakshmi Vilas hair oil, talcum powder and at best Nivea Cream were for men.
4 The southern strip of Old Gauhati, from west (Shantipur) to east (Silpukhuri), was inhabited by old Assamese (better off) Muslims.
5 Or maybe Abdul Hai (now son Mantu Hai)’s “Hotel Nova”, situated at the first floor of the same building.